Dusk fell and so the dark, a bright day came, casting an ominous spell on me. Morning: the day’s own pursuit of newness and possibilities, it’d compelled me to lose my rest. Abandoning the comforts of my bed, I slouched over to my Gregorian attic window to fully absorb the voluptuousness of the morning. Birds flying high you know how I feel… Skies when you shine you know how I feel… Breeze drifting on by you know how I feel…It’s a new dawn…It’s a new day…It’s a new life…For me…And I’m feeling good. Thus I sang from the depths of my heart. I had not done so in years. Outside the interminable procession of spike steel bars that traced out the border of our manor sprawl, the streetlights longed for this beautiful morning so that they could be swiftly extinguished. Inside, the wedding cake-like fountain longed to be switched on, its waters were desperate to spray and sparkle up in the shiny skies. And yet despite the alluring promise of the beautiful morning, I stepped back two, three steps, flung myself back to bed to continue the night and fully embrace its darkness. Dragonflies out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know… Sharp stones lurked in the greens you know what I mean… Sleep in peace when job is done – that is what I mean…And this old world is a new world…And a bold world…For me…And I’m feeling good…. Thus did I doze off with Nina Simone until I was all breath and void, breath and void. Breath, breath. Void.
‘Booom!!!’ It was the door, ending the duet, the breath, the void.
‘Alao! Alao!’ I heard. ‘There is trouble, capital T trouble. What have you done?’
Oh, Madge the maid! Through half-opened, fuzzy view, I could see her smudgy figure squirming like an earthworm cut into two by a mattock as she menacingly stumped barefoot towards the comforts of my bed.
‘There is trouble. You are in trouble Al. Get up! Get up I say! Downstairs in the main sitting room, Madame and the gentle and continent Mr Bukky are boiling. They are arguing over you. What have you done?’
Curving her height, she bent over me hospitably like a voluptuously outlined ward intern poised to take my temperature. Her lovely eyebrows had risen with nervous eagerness. What have I done? I thought. That was too restricting and unworthy of me. The correct question ought to be: What have I not done? With the neckline of her polka-dotted navy blue dress sagging generously, what my face again opened to was another aspect of the beautiful morning. Robust, quantitative, broadband, thismorning thumped with her breathing. Her complexion was healthy, pink. Her neck was long and tender, sexy. There was something decidedly dictatorial about that extended Na’vi throat over me. She never allowed me to caress it downwards – it was bad for the muscles. So I have had to work my way from bottom up. Despite repeated warnings from her Madame, the very first time she sneaked Nicodemusly into my room like this, she conceded that there was something weepy about my scintillating dove eyes that can force a Mother Teresa out of any lady, even the sexiest. Like a war commandant wearing a black patch over a perfectly good eye, I thought. Men fought harder for him.
‘Al, wake up and answer me,’ she said.
‘Hmmmgh. Yummy, yummy darling. It is a new day, a new dawn and I’m feeling good.’ I hummed, stretching my limbs in all the directions I could use. ‘Let me confess something you need to you know,’ I said rerouting my left hand to her plump face. She was eager to hear. ‘You are gorgeous. Only you.’ Drawling, I continued. ‘Your cherry eyeballs, emphatic doughnut cheeks, your intoxicating beer-coloured hair the festival of hay; well packed, well pegged like the rooftop garden. Your…your…’
‘Alao this is very serious.’ She spoke more insistently. ‘I have been in this house for 4 years and I’d never heard them shouting on each other as they do now. I couldn’t hear what they were arguing about very well from the kitchen but your name stood out with a menacing regularity. What pray tell did you do again to Mr Bukky? Or Madame? What? Does it have to do with running into Madame in the Library and snubbing her?’
‘Or have you placed something any media lately?’
Silence, a lusty silence.
‘You know how much your dangerous identity scares the hell out of Mr Bukky?’ Madge continued to question but a frequent flutter of my eyelashes like a constant beep hammered the lusty silence.
‘Al, I don’t appreciate your monkish indifference to my questions. Answer me and stop staring into my chest like a palace Rasputin. You always do the right thing at the wrong time.’
And yet she did nothing to unbend her gait or draw up her neckline to annul the intrusive stare or blot out the magnetic allure of the voluptuous morning. ‘My lollypop, let’s assume I’m Dharmendra, you’re Hema Malini. Then come on, hop in.’ I said ballooning the lips of duvet with my raised elbow. ‘Don’t ruin the magic of the morning. Let’s act our own Sholay here please. I don’t care about what’s happening in the sitting room. Besides, it’s just two of them. There is an impending tsunami of noise, a better storm of spiked steel I have nerved myself for. The state, the whole society, the H. O. Gabbar Singhs. They’ll come after me with cudgels and fury, revenge and arrows. In. Dig. Nation! Downstairs is just the preview I guess. Madge, I am the stem of a charming rose when the morning sun first touches it. Hop in my charming rose. Join your sweetly strong stem.’ I ballooned the duvet further and proceeded to tug her by her right wrist. ‘Leave them at their shouting match,’ I said derisively. ‘That is their calling. Sweetie, can you wash that apprehensive look off your face please. It doesn’t fit the occasion. Hop in and let’s close the deal or rather let’s open it. Please!’
‘Al, or have they suspected us?’ She asked dipping her voice very low.
I remembered early one morning, after an excruciating wait for her stealthy presence as planned, I proceeded downstairs to find her busy in the kitchen elaborately ironing out the family breakfast. Minutes later, she excoriated me while bending on her Madame’s toe-diving Manolo stilettos to clean up the chlorinated milk that had spilled on her inner thighs. ‘Al, I appreciate the fact that every time you see me, you’re inevitably locked in a state of emergency; honestly, I feel very flattered and considered. I’m used to being the unseen, the unchosen, the unadmired one everywhere I am. But this shouldn’t be every time Al.’ She insisted apparently menaced by her so-called careless desire to do good. ‘It is too risky, terms and conditions must apply.’
‘I don’t understand,’ I queried looking genuinely worried and eventually deciding on tucking the drooling carcass back into its scabbard and zipping up. ‘We are lovers, yeah? What is too risky, the state or the inevitable lock?’
She answered stealing a glance at the kitchen doorway. ‘What if Madame or Mr Bukky comes down earlier than usual for their coffee?’
Now this morning again, on hearing me say ‘let’s close the deal or rather let’s open it,’ Madge furtively turned her gaze toward the door before dipping her voice almost all breathe as if she’d imagined someone’s ear was right behind the door. She asked: ‘Al, or have they suspected us? If the worse comes to worst, I will just hand in my resignation and bolt. You?’
‘You resign? Bolt? What about tuition fees?’ I said, playing her historian, her conscience.
She puffed, rolled her eyes and sighed. Sensing an opening, in one fell swoop, I pulled her toward the playful softness of my bed so that the worse can properly come to the worst instead of resigning and bolting. Today, over her dress, she wore her mauve pinafore apron which swirled with the pull. Her hands were oily and smelled of omelette. I could not understand the point of her odd worries. Whatever the circumstance, Madge loved to keep her mood high and her spirit bubbly whether in envy, tensions, melancholy, depression, doubts and troubles. She said she meant nothing special by doing that. It was just her own way of generously assuring those emotional states of her indifference to their confines and destructive power.
‘Al, let your hands off me. Are you mad? Do you want to be in trouble forever? There is chaos! Madame and Mr Bukky are slugging it out below on your account.’
‘Yeah, honey bunny I kno-o-ow. That’s where I’m making my way toward. The juices are fresher in the morning and nicely in tension. Only I can tell. What else should result if not chaos? Let’s add some colour and make today a Hindi holi. Come on honey bunny, let’s…’
‘Al, behave! You are looking for irony in the wrong places. Your existence here is at stake. Do you know that? Our love is at stake, and here you are getting addicted to tragedy.’ She wriggled her body weakly to win herself from my motives and strong persistence.
‘For it is written, when a lady needeth something, she asketh for something else hence beckoning unto ye the man to use his initiative.’
‘No. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t snap. Don’t tear my bra.’ She howled while counter-struggling with me on the bed. ‘Calm down Alao, or is it a siege? What has invaded you this morning?’
‘I’m only trying to stretch its truth. ’
‘But it’s tearing and they’re spilling out.’ She said springing to her feet.
‘I’m only trying to free your spirit and heart from enclosures. When those hefties spring loose from their enclosure, you’re going to feel like a cage from whom all dark birds have flown. Trust me.’
‘Aren’t you scared? I am only getting worried for you. You know how Mr Bukky’s anger paralyses you.’ Again she spun her gaze round furtively at the door, took a deep breath and stared into my eyes with intolerable tenderness. ‘What are you up too Al? Fill me in. It seemed as if you’ve had everything figured out.’
Now her voice had changed tone. Softer and mellifluent, it sounded conciliatory. I notified myself: that certainly is a change I can believed in. I propped my cheek with my fist as I prepared to instruct her on what I had ‘figured out.’ I also prepared her to be ‘filled in’ by tapping on the bed twice for her to sit. To my surprise, she calmly sat down in a dynamic of tease: half-backing me, half-facing the door but fully publishing the outlines of her pear-shaped, working-class hips very close to me on the demilitarised zone of the bed. I also noticed she folded her arms across her high-tide chest. Is she being defensive, I thought, or deliberately calling my attention to its sinuously mighty heave?
Exhibit one: Madge knew I have an exceptional affinity for teats. Upon all their bubbly energies, their national insurance contributions, important health care deliveries and other notable accomplishments, they were still victimized, concealed, suffocated by the tight enclosures of the bra. The daily sights of smooth sleek rich rugby-shaped boobs that had descended grumpily and inarticulately into cups of bras which I glimpsed between buttons everywhere on the streets of London, or the ones I still managed to see behind high necklines like walls of Troy when as a gentleman I had to give up my seat for ladies on the bus or train filled me with revulsion and incense my passion for and commitment to justice, equality and fairness. Why? Because as a writer and activist, I see a comrade in every teat.
I began filling Madge in on the need to always follow her energies first, and then consider restrictions and impediments later however severe the powers of their opposition were. Those energies were the only graces the human spirit had. That if you don’t follow them, you would not be apart from the herd. The human spirit possessed a natural tendency to descend grumpily and inarticulately into restrictions and impediments and stay there for good marshalling perfect excuses for belonging or assimilating, not springing out at once. Following one’s energy was the only way to prevent this widespread self-destruction masquerading as normalcy. ‘You see what I mean,’ I concluded. From the bed, with my head still propped up, I located her face with the corner of my weepy eyes, the ones that can summon Mother Teresa from unlikely places.
Yes, she saw what I meant. For all of a sudden a doll’s size smile merried on those sweetly fat lips of hers and a steady flow of giggles leaked unstoppably. Bouncing freely and excitedly from her perch on the bed, she cried out. ‘Ha-ha! I no longer follow my energies but I used to too! I used to!!’
Used to: At 20, Madge was a veteran kerb crawler. Certified ugly by standards from magazine covers, billboards, TV screens and public eyes, she was repeatedly punished, abused and abandoned as a little girl by her mum, stepmom and foster mum. She precociously decided on kerb crawling. From the overused kerbs of Brompton road to the secluded coarseness of Hornsey lane, Madge was determined at all costs to work her way to the top to shame her despisers. Visiting Uncle Aaron in the Hornsey suburbs one fine morning, that was where her Madame currently screaming in the sitting room below found Madge as lonely and inappropriate as a seagull in a wheat field. Despite vehement and truceless objections from my brother, her husband, she brought Madge here to Surrey without hesitation, mentored her to good effect, paid her tuitions at Goldsmith College and then at Queen Mary University where she herself currently lectures. ‘Honey,’ her husband argued then, ‘you really mean to associate with someone blemished with a conviction and a criminal record? You really want to bring home someone who spent the whole of her 16th year on earth in jail for possessing and using class A substances? Do you know what irreparable destruction that can wreck on your image and the reputation of your family out there?’ However, the good thing was that Madge being Madge did not fetishize her past or sentimentalise it either as a purifying pain or as an excuse for some present deficiencies. She just accepted the episodes as part of a reservoir of experience fortifying her mind against the lurking realities of setbacks and frustrations others are so afraid of. Above all, she laughed them off pleasantly.
Setback: At the present, as Madge sat hot, backing me and full of ease on the bed. I drew myself up and advanced my cheek to her cheek and my bearded chin was on her shoulder. Encouraged by lack of resistance, I slowly rubbed my fingers in the web between hers as if they were wounds to be soothed. Down the whorls of her ear, I heaved in cursive whispers hints of why my name kept popping up amidst the noisy turmoil down below. ‘I am a dot within a dot, a minority amongst minorities but not to worry Madge, I have hitched my agony unto a higher star.’ I was saying a star, a star, as I slowly coordinated the bristles of hair on my cheeks against her smooth cheeks and against her long neck. I was trying to influence a piercing sweetness in the core of her body.
Her body: One day at exactly 3am while I was using the safety of the night to contain the runaway prose in the galley proof of my secret novel, a prose originally blazed from a terrible life of ceaselessly looking over the shoulder and downloaded by breathlessly and soundlessly tapping the only permitted keyboard downstairs, Madge stealthily came two floors up to share her flask of latte. The talk that morning produced an enchanting juxtaposition in her past. While plying her trade, she said, a male customer who called himself a recent war veteran finished with her rough and hard in an abandoned church building along Bishopsgate in the City of London. Claiming special military privileges, he refused to pay up. Madge reported that that cold night, she decided to stand up for herself and they began to haggle and scramble face to face with the veteran like two scorpions determined to sting themselves to death. She hates exploitation, she explained, or any trick however mild that has manipulation for an end. If the hysterically haired dude with bear-strong arms and cross-eyed orgasms whom she said she strongly suspected had post-traumatic stress disorder had humbly begged and pleaded he had no money, being a kind and considerate girl of 15 years going on 16, she possessed the required occupational drugs in her bag to understand. Humility is not humiliation. Dignity is all there is, she explained to me that morning. But no, the dude was claiming superiority and calling her a khalili trash whatever that meant. He argued that everywhere people respect war heroes and offer them services for free. Eventually when the fisticuff broke out, she had to call the police squad, the one in charge of shoplifting. ‘You mean he made away with goods from your shelves and didn’t pay?’ I said. ‘The police came, frisked me instead for evidence of credibility, they found drugs. And I was done for for the next 12 months.’
For evidence of credibility: I laughed and laughed while she grinned and then joined me mixing breath and vibrations. That I was used to setting back her body for evidence of credibility always? ‘What are you trying to infer Madge?’ I asked teasingly that dark morning. She then hoisted herself on my table obscuring my reading lamp – the one that made my little window shine and the whole house stand like a lighthouse to the whole neighbourhood. ‘Are you saying when you look at your Al, you see the hysterically haired military veteran or what?’ ‘No way. I don’t try to act clever in that direction. Never. I’m always straightforward in addressing you, my little maestro. If I meant someone, I meant someone. I enjoy putting you at ease unlike you setting me on my toes always with oblique parallels.’
Always: You think so? I said. To tell her a real set-me-on-my-toes story which was a frequent off-the-record occurrence, I cleared away the galley proof with its prose still stained with haste and fear: fear of being seized abruptly for living illegally in the UK. I told her about dwelling for months in the heavily policed jungle of Calais together with other illegal immigrants from China, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Chile, crawling stealthily in deep French mud, stilling ourselves for hours like concrete statues to outwit police breathe detectors, hanging on tree branches like strange fruits very early in the morning in order to smuggle ourselves onto lorries, trucks, tankers crossing the English Channel into either Great Britain or the United Kingdom – Great Britain being the inexhaustible sprawl of freedom and wonderful opportunities where dreams are rendered real, and United Kingdom being a merciless crown of thorns. I told Madge of how the armed and ruthless French immigration police came around into the jungle to pass themselves into us from behind like a well-lubricated heavy-duty jackhammers, while we on raised toes and bent spines moaned or screamed, finger-clenching the stolid tree trunks for balance and simile. ‘Mon amour, je t’aime mon amour,’ those French fries chanted while caressing our starving bellies down to our hairy crotches to force us feel what they were feeling. There was joy in sharing, they reckoned. ‘France loves youmonsieur, France infinitely loves you.’ They went on and on. But the English immigration cowboys, when they sneaked into our makeshift camps only at nights or during weekends, they treat us like the shit that we were. They do not apply oil or style or civilisation like the French, non, with their Union Jack underwear already hanging around their knees or snagging on their boots, they just spit before and spit at you after.
Madge couldn’t help it that morning: on hearing that, she rolled the whites of her big wide eyes, covered her fat lips with two fingers and bah: she sent a long storm down her nostrils like Volney in Giza. ‘Mon cher monsieur, they said huh? O beau monsieur?’ Her voice when it was drawn deep from her breast, and changed its tone in her long throat was a wondrous melody when it came to my ears knocking to enter. ‘Well, such is life Al,’ she admonished still in the last throes of her delicious laughter. ‘Well, for some people, by the accident of their place of birth, they will not receive a fair chance in life. They’ll have to struggle up and down, cross deserts and jungles, embrace wounds, tolerate torture, meet beasts and brutalities on the way before they join the ranks of those who made it.’ With her face covered in tears, she stood up from my table and gave me a deep hug. The delicious laughter was absolutely for me but the tears were hers. ‘We will get there someday baby,’ she said. ‘We will.’ That night, I too cried eventually.
Now as I concluded telling her about the need to follow one’s energies as the reason why I keep my cool amidst the news of the portent brewing downstairs, and all the while, caressing the betweens of her fingers as if soothing wounds. Again that doll-sized smile and the stifled chuckle took hold of her. Then all of a sudden her voice seized a rare vehemence I didn’t know was plausible in this context since my hairy cheek was also brushing hers, teasing out the required chemistry that make inevitable the recourse to physics.
‘Foolish me,’ she asserted suddenly, ‘you’ve swept me off my feet with your follow-your-energy sermon’ She wriggled and elbowed my ribs to set herself free from my protracted embrace. ‘Al, you always pitch for your brilliance with tricks and get what you want, right? You never allow yourself to lay low and stay a cripple as Mr Bukky insisted you should. You always want your genius to override your illegal status. And this morning you’d figured me out as your status right? But guess what Al,’ Madge pronounced ominously, slapping off my stubbornly clasping hand from the massive fluffy softness surrounding her left teat. ‘you will not override me. No. Not. This. Morning.’
Her Madame who had given her a clean future away from the vagaries and hardness of the kerbs followed it with a stern warning: me. ‘In case Al needs anything, come to me first, I shall deal with him myself,’ she once ordered her in the presence of the gentle and continent Mr Bukky. ‘He shall come downstairs and have his meals like everybody else either in the main dining room or the family dining room upstairs. I don’t want to see you going up to his room without my permission, all right?’ Madge’s off-the-record presence here in the attic in other words was dissent: breaking rules: following her energy from body to body.
‘Al, I know you have a reliable gut and you like putting your obstinate shoulders to the wheel. But know this. In case things get out of hands between Madame and Mr Bukky, and no matter what eventually happens to you, be sure you can rely on me and I will always be there for you. You know where to meet me, don’t you?’ Madge still said with warmth and concern.
‘What is home without Madge’s potted meat? Incomplete. With it, an abode of bliss. Come on my magnetic morning flower, we can as well meet now. Indeed, I really need to meet you. I cannot get anything right in the day if I don’t meet you in the morning, please, please.’
‘Al, you frequently lamented the shallowness of sanity, now I am convinced you’re steadfastly getting deep. The manifestation is everywhere.’ Next, unlike before, she wriggled with emphasis and won herself at last from my embrace, from my bed, from my plot. ‘Well, I’m frying omelettes downstairs. It will soon burn and trigger the alarms. That will confirm my absence,’ she said with all seriousness. ‘Al, I have to go. It is for your own good. A slow and gentle retreat now would hurt less than an abrupt severance later.’ Immediately she stood up from the edge of the mattress, I felt myself sinking at its centre under my own weight. Then I truly sensed the trouble, it was as if my strong immunity system subsidised by testosterone had suddenly collapsed. I became agitated that I would be susceptible to or even be swallowed up in the storm of spikes that lay ahead of me. I cried out for help!
‘Madge, Madge, you seem not to be getting the exact point, look!’ I pointed her the middle of the duvet covering me where an intimidating knoll bigger than before had since risen like Nijinsky, 12 feet in the air. ‘You can’t leave me like this Madge. I thought for me you’d breast the waves like a battleship as promised. Or have I misread our contract?’
‘I am so sorry baby. I have a place to be.’ She sleekly straightened her apron and made for the door’s brass knob instead of mine. ‘Tuition fees,’ she said sarcastically after a pause, flinging her conscience back at me.
At this juncture on other good mornings, if she doesn’t allow me to flare her hips and clarify the sticky fusion between, she would at least apply her oily hands with systematic relish to the core of the huge intimidating knoll, or, better still, her plumy cheeks would hollow vigorously over it till all is white and beautiful. She would then pronounced, ‘does that favour?’ With that done, I was baptized and most empowered to meet the challenges of the new day. But not today: my distraught eyes gushed in disbelief as she tiptoed away with pneumatic bounces while the big bow of duty that cinched her apron on her waist jounced cheerfully with the rich amplitude of her rippling rear.
Oh, underneath that big bow, I thought, my eyes misted as she jimmied the door close with an outrageous finality. I turned 180 degrees to face the window with the beautiful morning in it. I rested my head on a crooked arm on the pillow and drew up a knee; with the other hand tiptoeing purposefully down my waist to my crotch, I set myself in a First aid recovery position forming a sequence of useful mental images on the best approach to emasculate the Nijinsky knoll, the knoll, the knoll, the knoll…. I was that hinged.
Aaaah! My voice now did the Nijinsky leap, over 12 feet in the air. Today is Monday! I remembered what I had earmarked for the day. I have a crucial role to play on the kerbs of Luton. The newspapers reported the soldiers’ body bags were due home today. I have to be there to welcome them with raised posters. There is something terrifying in stupidity being made coherent as national purpose. A war to augment our welfare, boost our national pride battered by economic downturn, and the sudden rise of long ignored nations? If we are so hungry for heroes and patriots of national security, why not create a new generation of Darwins, Newtons and Faradays? I mentally noted for my posters. Why through war? Why at the expense of blossoming young lives? I had waved away the duvet, jumped out of bed and changed into a pair of khaki combat trousers, black boots and a French beret to match. Oh my goodness, I was really running late! Surrey to Luton before nine o clock? I looked back and noticed my body outline was stamped into the bed hitching for sleep, the night, the dark. Look forward always, I warned myself. Into my rucksack, I rolled two blank cardboard posters with my opinion yet unexpressed on them. I zipped up the bag but the tail of the cardboards stuck out like a ninja’s sword. Why do I have to spoil the posters with my anti-war opinions anyway? I argued with myself. Their blankness are best used to harvest the young soldiers last sighs that were said to hover around their young corpses crying for help, crying for meaning. And I’d beam these rich harvests to the conscience of the nation at the British Library in Euston. I made for my door knob attempting to tiptoe like Madge three floors down to the main entrance when I remembered with alarm: No companion book for the journey? Very unlike me. I crawled on the floor to retrieve my box of books from under the bed which was where I usually hide them away from Mr Bukky’s instinctive and voracious confiscation when he ventured into my room or according to him, when he came to say ‘Hi’ before proceeding to the rooftop garden. Outside the interminable procession of spike steel bars that constitutes the borders of our manor sprawl, an illegal cannot enrolled in any college or university. Inside, he was not allowed to freely read anything he liked. Why? Once you give a slave access to qualitative education, there is no point keeping him a slave.
The Box: Poems of the End, Never Let Me Go, To Stoop to Conquer, The Adventures of Saul Bellow by Augie March, Barbican’s booklets of Britten’s War Requiem and Edgar’s Spirit of England, Suite Française, Journey To The End Of The Night, Aroused By Books, Elizabeth Keckley’s Behind the Scenes, Or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House, To Kill a Mockingbird, 2666, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Quicksand, The Nietzsche Reader, Out of Africa… Yes, yes, Quicksand will be the appropriate companion for the journey, I said into the boxed dishevelment and pulled it out.
‘…no, your brother definitely has to be deported, period. The time has come for you to end him once and for all. Why, did he use my name for Christ sake, why?’ Madge’s Madame cried in the sitting room. Her voice was delightfully sonorous, surrounding each syllable with a wheeze.
‘Sweetheart, why are you so preoccupied with his using your name? Nobody out there will ever suspect it’s you. It is just a coincidence that it is your name; your name, baby, not you. According to the reviews we’ve read so far, the steamy scenes associated with your name are set on the Alps of Vienna. Vienna in Austria. I bet Alao cannot be that lover since he has never been to Vienna nor can he be. He has no passport or means to. Everything he wrote was all made-up. So why are you fretting over an imaginary damage to you? Whereas the damage to me is real, honey. A book that is not yet on generally release is already on the Booker long list. With that comes an immodest amount of attention and the newspapers, I am so sure of being sure, are by now competing for scoops on his background. That is how they’ll know his status and who has been harbouring him.’ The timbre of my brother’s baritone voice looped with indignation while the spreads of newspapers, dry and crispy, rumpled like thunderclaps under his handling. ‘Honey look at these please.’
There was a peck that indicated that the intensity of the standing lamp between them had increased a step, then two. ‘See, Sunday Telegraph’s review awarded him 5 stars, Independent 5. Sunday Mail too gave him 5? Time Out 5, Spectator too! Even the tabloids and our own Financial Times?!!! The bookies too are suggesting he is the strongest contender for the prize; that he may win?!! This is really, really disheartening, honey. Meaning, had they his picture, it would have appeared here on the front covers very, very handsome and appealing? My goodness! But why is Alao doing this to me? Why? Can’t his so-called magic brain realise the editors are simply fattening the calf? That they’re just beautifying the scene in order to properly set the stage for the imminence of tragedy? Is this the way he planned to reward my hospitality?’
‘Our hospitality,’ his wife’s voice declared, authoritative in its pensiveness. But Bukky continued as if she had not spoken, his own voice marching forth anaphorically.
‘Was it a wrong move to bring one’s brother from down there to have a better life up here in the United Kingdom? When he was stranded in France, I staked my reputation and went to rescue him in some macabre jungle in Calais. Was it a wrong move to structure a wealthy ambition for him in stock and currency markets with a sure promise of getting legal stay? I had already instructed our legal department would apply for him as if he’s just being transferred to the City from one of our offshore branches. They would build a credible career history for him complete with payslips, tax returns, not missing proofs of his hefty annual bonuses donated to children’s or military charities. They’ll develop photos of him in Davos or in any other world economic forums advancing progressive ideas and articulating solid environmental policies. And I would cover the application with a letter that he indispensable to the economy and UK’s global competitiveness just as I do for the Wall Street boys and hedge fund executives we employ across the Atlantic. Even when the moron in Alao rejected this watertight route to wealth and legality, I still kept him under the comfort of my roof waiting patiently for him to change his mind. I am my brother’s keeper. I took away his junk books and gave him cartons of business and inspirational self-help books. Free of charge. So why this malicious resolve to bring me down? Why, when there are speculations out there that I may be knighted this year for my contributions to arts, support for numerous charities and investments in clean energies? Why? My own brother? Doing this to me? No, he is not my brother, he was just impersonating being one, he is an illegal all the way. A toxic asset. ’
‘Listen to me B! I do not appreciate what I am listening to at all.’ His wife’s voice raced out. ‘You’re my husband yes, but you’re too self-centred for that post. You revise everything that happens to me to how it affects you, you and only you. You went through all these weekend papers reading only your business and finance columnists as usual. Had I not gone from masthead to keel on every page, we wouldn’t have known about your brother’s poisonous project. You’re so in love with your own good luck that others do not count. Talking about narcissism as a way of life? Or symptoms of minority complex?’
Damn! Bukky brought his fist down heavily on an arm of his raffia chair. His voice rose gathering every inch of the sitting room into the logic of his perspective. ‘Beg your pardon sweetie, don’t start practising psychoanalysis and all those minority-complex, fear-of-nothingness-royal-horseshit on me please. Let’s be objective and broad here. Are my interests not the family’s interests? What have I done without the interest of me, you or Diane at heart? If I go down in the society, is it not a shame on all of us? You seem not to be looking at this issue from a grand angle.’
‘Oh yeah? So only your interests are always equal to the family’s, that is the grand angle? To abandon our prized mutuality? That is the grand angle?’
‘Honey you’re being extreme. I did not go that far. All I’m saying is that the buck stops with me. I will have to take ultimate responsibility for anything anybody does wrong in this house; that alone should set me or my opinions apart.’
It was hard to guess whether Madge’s Madame didn’t want to get further distracted or she was simply deploying her academically renowned Jesus Christ Theory. (Always allow your boss some opportunity to feel like the boss however good you may be. Play the dunce if it’s going to require that. He’ll feel himself rising. Lower the skies to convince him he is flying very high. Then crucify him.) Her irritated tone of voice when it did seize some space again was diluted with decorum and concern for the way forward.
‘Anyway, what are we going to do now?’ She submitted. ‘How are we going to contain your brother’s explosion and make good this damage? Can we get an injunction against the general publication of the rotten text? Or we sue him?’
‘Sue him? As an illegal, is he a him in the eyes of the law? Won’t we be giving the book more undeserved attention or give his him some credence if we sue?’
‘So your brother would come here, break our laws, run the show, hurt us, and go scorched-free?’
‘Honey this is not the time to be rationally reckless is my point,’ Bukky said.
Meanwhile, next door, in the anteroom, I am not being rationally reckless, I l heard. And from my listening post by the gaping French doors of the sitting room where curiosity had diverted me from the war protest in Luton, I gently walked backwards choked with indignant trepidation, and my acute dread of nothingness which I thought was banished for good by writing a well-received book began to reassert itself purposefully. When I thought I was winning, cornering nice lights, I was in fact, losing terminally. And this old world is a new world? A bold world? I’m feeling good? My sight grew dim, sweat sprinted from my knitted brows as I sank with a gravely thud on one of the low-spine sofas in the anteroom. I removed my black French beret to soak up the sweat. Why am I always being hurt? I pondered looking up, pointing my unkempt beard to the sparkling chandelier above. What is it about being illegal that offered everyone the incentives to tamper with my life? Like an abortion debate, none of the sides deemed it suitable to invite me to participate in the debate of which I was the sole topic. I am the foetus, knocking desperately to belong to a human club that won’t let me in. With no inalienable right to life or easy claim to any fundamental freedoms and liberties, my existence was tied up with those discourses of odium that placed a host’s freedom of choice over a foetus’s right to life. Nonetheless, yes, against these odds, with my courage to exist, I will go on ticking. According to Newton’s first law of motion in Principia Mathematica, when the force on a body is greater than its opposing frictional forces there is forward motion, when less, inertia. When my ego is greater than my worries and the society’s arrows, the result is courage. When less, fear. I will go on existing. Alao, now stand up and flee, you hear? Blaze forth! I ordered myself. An illegal or some such has legs or mind that can move fast enough, he ought to use it always, sit down too long, someone somewhere would surely figure out a way to tie him down and cart him off solved. Go, Alao, departez! Distance yourself from here before it is too late. This is the price you pay for your human quest.
But from the sitting room, my brother’s voice became arrestingly tender like in those days in Nigeria when he used to advise me about the challenges of growing up in a wicked world. ‘Hold on a minute honey. Hello!’ He sounded a little remote, a little innocent. He seemed to have abandoned the two raffia seats they were occupying to be glued to his Victorian chaise longue like he always did when hitching to make or pick up a business call. Above those calls were Condo’s Return of Client No. 9and a late Duchamp, The Lie of Firdos Square both dangling from the feature wall. ‘Honey, I don’t understanding why you cannot keep this sulking frustration on hold.’
‘Why should I?’ His wife replied. ‘I have been callously betrayed. I pitied Al too and did a lot of nice things for him. That radio interview you were mad about, I organised it for him through my graduate assistant.’
There was a momentary silence before Bukky spoke. ‘Even if you have sufficient evidence in court, our laws of libel and censorship can block the publication of a true-life story but not fiction. Why is the law this biased you may ask? Because fiction requires imagination, and imagination may be susceptible to facts and evidence, it is not responsible to them. In fact, writers unlike us have what is called artistic licence, a generally accepted, tradition-backed instrument to distort pure facts; like an open cheque, they use it to accrue lies of any amount. And the society says that’s okay. They are writers. We enjoy them. So going to court against Al’s Booker-listed idiocy may not seem too wise. The courts would uphold the honour of this artistic licence. They would claim the freedom to express this licence is the reason why the society is open and progressive. I don’t know which society progresses when a very exclusive few holds the freedom to lie with impunity but we bankers don’t.’
There came an uneasy pause, dramatic, pinteresque. It was tensing. From my seat in the anteroom, I heard a sigh. Two. Rumpling newspapers. Then Bukky.
‘Honey, can you trust me? Do you trust me? Do you want me to demonstrate to you why that sulky frustrating mood is not yours?’ He asked not waiting for her response. ‘Granted there are some atoms of proofs to show Alao downloaded himself into that lover boy character, Dammy, but ultimately… look, hear this: from the Financial Times review, Dammy “is an expatriate speck who lives in a multi-million pound suburbs.” But the same cannot be said of your alleged character. Here in the News of the World’s review, she is “a high fly society lady who is having a Million Pound Affairwith her servant.” So how can that be you? Do you have a servant? No. Let me read to you how the Sunday Mail captured theirs: “Dummy, sorry, Dammy represents an everyman’s desire to build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung, but being black and illegal, he must first pursue the space. He then…” Come on honey, what are you sobbing for? Is there something else you want to hear? Trust me on this please. Since Alao has been living here, how many times have you seen him participating in anything social? Even while we were growing up together in Nigeria, he was compulsively lonely. He cannot connect on a human level so I can assure you he lacks the capacity to spark or sustain a romantic relationship or a love affair. That is why I feel comfortable leaving him and Madge in the house. And the terrible way he dresses, his vulgar manners present him as an eyesore to any lady. Therefore, he can only fantasise about what he cannot have. And precisely these fantasies are what he has written down. They have no footing in facts or reality. They are not provable before any magistrate.’
‘Then why did he use my name?’ She screamed.
‘But what is in a name?’ Her husband shouted.
‘He has alluded to my person. I don’t know what else of my private life he’d explicitly given out or alluded to in the whole book,’ she screamed back.
‘But honey, I don’t get you. Though I don’t believe Al knows anything that has a damaging potential to you, but no matter what he has alluded to you, we in the house are privy to it. The public cannot have a clue and so it cannot be damaging. So why the fuss? Or is there something else I don’t know?’
Why the fuss?
From my seat in the anteroom, I could picture them locking eyes as they did after some arguments of irreconcilable differences before each went his or her own way. Their locked eyes were like sub-surface optical cable that can flow extraordinary volume of data back and forth where other obvious cables like going out for a stroll with arms linked or sitting together on the swing in the garden won’t. Once was when Bukky stretched on his Victorian chaise longue with a “longue” like bow of a Viking ship. He was at a call while she cat walked to him after loudly reprimanding Madge at another section of the palatial sitting room and demanding she desisted from proceeding unauthorised to my room upstairs for whatever reason. And yet I was there in the extreme corner of the sitting room typing my secret manuscripts on their desktop computer – the only one permitted for the 8-bedroom house. Their eyes met and locked in harmony: she in her pink slip looked down at her husband needfully, while he, looking rapt in his conversation, said into the phone, ‘quantum investing is volatile nowadays. The time for remorse or apologies is over. As a junior trader, when you believe in something, just go for it. I am telling you as your mentor, no matter the probability distributions, fear must not be your option when you consider yourself sufficiently wired to success. Accounting and accountability have very little in common. At your stage, you should already know that. On my own part, be assured that any year the Americans finally make up their minds to make a move for Cadbury, I will guarantee the necessary loans, mobilise the required alpha ratings from friendly rating agencies and game everything up. It is doing God’s work… True…true but they have assured me they will be loyal to the new board not to any pre-existing agreement with workers. That is what every investor wants to hear. And that is what you should constantly focus on.’ His wife dropped on the couch as if from vertigo and turned all her rich curves over to him. Her head was huddled under his chin and her soft shapely butt spread out profusely on his waist intent on maximising every inch of contact. Still speaking into the handset, Bukky with his free hand, stroked his wife romantically on her wrists, her elbows and at moments of bravura dipped under her slip’s neckline an inch or two instead of going a mile or more as justice required. Her unlocked eyes, wet and expectant, could only stare up into the high ceiling unblinkingly.
Now I heard her reply to the question of why the fuss after their characteristic silence of stares.
‘Dear, what gives you the impression, an information is more dangerous out there in the public than here in private?’ She was a little vexed but her husband did not allow a reflective silence nor ask what kind of information could that be, he just disbursed with a voice that struck me as startling in its carrying power.
‘I think it is more dangerous in public than in private. I explain. First Madge. On campus they know her as the high-shouldered, self-preening, tolerate-no-nonsense president of the prestigious law students society for the second year running. You told me this yourself. Yet at home, we know her background. Now imagine her jealous friends and rivals having access to how we found her and what she did for a living. Imagine how they would use it to further ostracise the poor girl or bring her down. Second: Alao, our attic idiot. At home, we all know he has no authoritative declaration from the Home Office that certifies his validity in any inch of this country. Relatively, we don’t have a really big deal with that until now, do we? Now consider that information being available to the public, consider what will happen to me or to my corporate image? I am not nothing in the UK. You may not have many problems in the academia since brand is not the currency there or is it?’
She must have shaken her head to give her take since Bukky pressed forward.
‘So why should you be so concerned about what is anonymously private becoming public? You have only read the plot summaries or is it reviews they call them nowadays? You’ve not read the whole book and you’re turning blue because you happen to share a name with his character.’
‘Bukky, all these are not really the point.’
‘So what’s the point honey? I am listening.’ I could hear him rummaging through the spread of papers on the floor like scattered pieces of himself. ‘There we are,’ he spoke again. ‘Look, Sunday Times and Observer provided web links to some extracts.’
‘Extracts? What? From the book?’ His wife burst out, stunned.
‘Yeah come on. Let’s check it on the computer. May be you’ll confirm once and for all you are not the one having an affair in the book and that your fears have no valid basis.’
Extracts? I too wondered from my seat under the chandelier scanning my brother’s larger than life grand portrait at forty hanging over medals, plaques, framed awards, and trophies that commemorated milestones in his brief but on-going investment career. Nobody informed me of any excerpts. Not that I would get the money though. I had been told since I presented the manuscript to my sympathetic publisher that the Home Office would fine and tarnish them once they later find out my illegal status and that I earned a wage that was not responsible to any tax code. Well, that was why the odd jobs of samizdat existence was where people like me belonged not getting into culture or writing books because there, underneath, you get your cash in hand unadvertised to the immigration bulldogs avid for end of year bonuses. I had to sign away the manuscript and whatever proceeds it may accrue before I could receive its galley proof.
I tracked my brother’s hulky form rose from his couch, his assured steps on some newspapers with ostentatious Japanese flip-flops which he loved donning in the morning, and his travel rightward past the Giacometti alcove set in the middle of the palatial sitting room, then to the dining section where the computer system was. ‘Come on, let’s nail this thing once and for all,’ he spoke animatedly.
‘I hope he has nothing to say about the origin of our lovely daughter too,’ his wife mumbled en route.
Bukky pleaded. ‘Darling let us go online first and see his extracts. I am eager to prove you wrong again. You know my profession, I have been betting in the markets and betting right. Switch on the system please. If eventually you’re still not satisfied, I will send for Alao to clarify your confusions. Hopefully he still knows what he wrote.’
Send for me? That I would be recognized at last? In the anteroom, my heart jigged with a special pleasantness that I, the rough edge, the despised would be summoned from beneath to have a say. At ease, I stretched and crossed my booted feet on the antique Mobutu centre table with a growling lion carved in each of its four legs. My bag too was there with its folded anti-war posters poking out. High above me, the chandelier continued shedding a radiance that kept me from being invisible. I closed my eyes to it and returned my mind to the turbulence brimming next door.
Since it was not yet 7 o’clock, the curtains were active at both ends of the sitting room preventing the beautiful morning from waving in. At the front end, the curtains covered two sets of windows that interrupted the flow of exterior photosynthetic walls. At the back end, the computer side, they covered a pair of ceiling-to-floor sliding doors that opened the entire section to the terrace, the threshold of the great southern lawn on which my brother hosted grand insider trading parties or played golf with his or other people’s inner circles. In the glazed alcove at the middle of the sitting room was his pivotal Giacometti’s Walking Man, a rumpled tinfoil-like sculpture of an unclothed emaciated lonely man with clumpy feet and an active pose, striding stoically ahead from the big-bang mud he was fashioned from. To give the Sotheby-auctioned, anonymously-bought £78 million man a state, a personality, an attitude, over its shoulder, my brother slung his old temperamental CD player – the first delight he used his money to buy when he was still with his wife’s uncle, Sir Weisz as an understudying aide. No matter the kind of music he pried from the player then, it unfailingly came out as an Edith Piaf.
‘That is their website.’ I suddenly heard. ‘Yeah, yeah that is the link. Ok click on it,’ my brother said to his wife.
Laughter, like keys, is liberating
‘What’s that? Please scroll down honey that’s not what we’re looking for.’
‘Be patient please. That is just the heading ok? I can feel your heart beating fast on my shoulder.’
Here I am, spruced up in two neckties, one pointing up, the other down, swivelling back and forth close to the ceiling as if in my executive chair, determined to recount with my last swallows of breath, the key events of my short stretch of life. From wall to wall, I am looking down on my achievements, my awards, my trophies, my modern paintings, musing over how they came to be here and then coming face to face with my own life size portrait.
Bukky coughed as if clearing his throat to continue. ‘Last swallows of breath?’ He coughed again. ‘Honey can you read on please. I am used to stock quotes and rising graphs, colourful simulations and charts, not prose.’
‘Ok then,’ his wife replied. I could picture her sitting down in the dark corner close to the floor-to-ceiling grey drapes, and her Bukky bent over her from behind, his sideburns fitted to hers as he breathed in strands of her unpacked morning hair. Under her softie palms, the mouse carried an arrow across the glowing computer screen and her husband’s pair of eyes followed it pixel by pixel. Behind them as if from a projector, their shadows tangled together like some ghoulish lettering on the opposite wall.
The architectural function of this room is to host the stairs going up; the political function is to calm pride and soaring ambition of guests, the economic function is to enhance leverages. And the moral function is to make money and postpone pain forever. I held charities, I hosted parties, I brought my arch-rivals closer, breaking bread with them. What did all those come to? First Bear Stearns failed. Then Lehmann Brothers. Our clients. Economies too, Iceland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and still counting. Reforms, reforms, reforms. In this new, precocious and fertile century, they want to criminalise Creative Accounting, Credit derivatives, Currency Swaps, Collaterised Debt Obligations and other money minting machines that were once hallowed by laws of the land. Big friendly governments that had eagerly catered for our exceptionalism are now hounding us, ravenously searching for finance scapegoats for public catharsis and electoral gains. Where are we to flee? Cayman Islands is now under the sea. How are we to cope? Monaco is now in the hands of the Feds. We are heading for the worst plague since the great one. They said I in particular ought to have been blowing whistles not stacking killings. That whistle-blowers naturally come from unexciting backgrounds or failed societies. I have taken a stand in a different route that is why here I am about to justify how I rose from humble background in Nigeria to a sovereign market martyr swivelling to and fro in the air, above all earthly criticisms and closet envies. It all started when I was reborn, my –
‘Stop, honey! Stop! Is this what we are looking for?’ I heard Bukky hooting and breathing hard.
His wife answered him. ‘Cool it Bukky. This I think is the unreliable narrator the Financial Times review praised so much for being reliable in his unreliability. There is no point in being agitated. They are his speculations or fantasies, they have no immediate or remote connection to facts or reality, understand?’
‘Yeah, I know but it resembles…it resembles…anyway let’s go down please.’ When there seemed to be some indifference, he further insisted. ‘Can you scroll the page down please?’
‘There is nothing to page down to anymore. We are at the end. This is all of it. It is not an extract per se but a snippet I think. Let’s check this other link.’
‘We don’t need to then.’ Bukky fumed.
‘Why not,’ his wife pointed out, ‘we are trying to solve an issue here, aren’t we?’
‘We would just be getting terribly surprised and upset the more. I can sense what is happening.’ I heard Bukky sighing very deeply. ‘Apparently Al has the newspapers on his side more than we think. Had he wealth and a name, I’d bet 100% this is an advanced racket. See, the publicists deliberately selected an excerpt with no real names just pronouns to tease mass interest in the goddamn book. There will be a general frenzy when it comes out. Oh my goodness! I am mighty finished. But why, why is this mad boy doing this to me?’ Bukky spoke forlornly. The growing intensity of his voice even in his forlornness suggested he was slouching closer to the opened French doors; nearer to me and away from his seated wife. I was about doing something when I heard:
‘You know what Bukky? Honestly I blame you and your egomaniac self, not Al.’ His wife was calling for his crucifixion.
‘Me? How do you mean? Are you trying to serve as my foe on his behalf? He only made you make love to him, he made me hang myself and murder reputable companies like Bear Sterns and Lehmann Brothers. And this coming from the brother of their adviser and guarantor, how do you think those companies would react to our current dealings with them? Tell me, who deserves more sympathy? And here you are blaming me to boot!!’
With that, they both erupted in a stampede of arguments and counterarguments while my name kept popping like Ping-Pong from whichever arena they had created in the ample sitting room. Was this the kind of chaos Madge came earlier on to warn me about? Or was it similar to the clash of egos draped in flags at the root of the war I was going to Luton to warn others about? However, amidst the severe dishevelment the sitting room had become, I imagined the computer screen standing there, still and erect, another qualmless dare flaming from its face.
Emancipated at last from our repressed indoor impulses, we shot up to work meats in the disabled toilet on the British Library’s lush, quiet and topmost floor. Four times in a row. Night was conspicuously hanging everywhere in the streets when we were over and we descended our way from the Library to King’s Cross Underground Station, strolling lip to lip. Whether it was that day or the following day in the garden that the nine-month’s clock began to tick, I couldn’t pin-point.
My mind reeled on to capture Madge, my ever busy self-proclaimed status who refused to be overcome this morning. By 7 o’clock which is ten minutes away, she would step out of the kitchen or the main dining room to switch on the fountain in the front garden, draw the curtains in the sitting room and allow the beautiful morning to bathe the ground floor before dashing off to school today being Monday. With her apron around her like a tutu, and her rooftop-garden hair feed entirely into the teeth of a clasping comb, I pictured her as a graceful swan, a carefully seductive one on high heels. Compelled by desire for breakfast, I effortlessly advanced my hand below the belt and began strumming an inner guitar. High heels: they instrumentalise a woman’s posture and gait. As high erotic altars, they pull in the stomach, push the hips out and tilt forward the chest and whatever it was carrying. All these special effects happening before she moved a single step. One two one. One two one. And with those carefully edited and meticulously arranged stepping, high-heels deliver a mesmerising sway or a military clatter to the already action-packed gait.
‘You’re amazing honey! Yes, the buck stops with me you’re right about that but you cannot blame me. Indeed, I pitied his woeful history. And with your consent, with your full cooperation, I brought him to a new world in the UK. I repeatedly offered him a post in the credit derivative department so that his brains and talents could be put to meaningful use. Just as your uncle did to me ten years ago when I came to settle in the country. But Al is Al he made sure I got nowhere.’
Still strumming an inner guitar, I could only hear my brother feebly and faintly as his wife countered him. ‘No, no, no. Uncle Aaron used what you wanted.’
‘Which is?’ Bukky asked.
‘Advancement of course. Class! Elevation! Anything to flee from being minority.’
His wife continued: ‘There is something blessed in Al’s manner. He feels he does not belong to the haul of gravity, that he is not bound by the same categories and partitions that defeat the rest of us. That was what you should have used to trap him not wealth or a stupid investment post.’
‘So why didn’t you say something before?’ Bukky’s voice was incensed partly because there was still someone available to say something positive about his younger brother, and partly because he was seen to have erred on the side of strategy.
‘How could I have said something when you don’t let me in on anything you’re doing anymore?’ My brother’s wife argued in a voice increasingly strained with emotion. ‘You’re now too rich, too important in the society. In your dealings and decisions, you just shut me out unreferenced yet we began all these together from the scratch. Even when you come back from your office at night, you toss yourself lazily on the bed too tired to hold me down and make reference to me. And you know very well that I’m a woman of proactive feelings with no off-peak period. Neglect is a capital offence to me.’
I faintly heard Bukky’s voice becoming husky, sounding romantic: ‘Come on sweetheart. Don’t say that. You know I…’
‘Get your belated hands off me you hear. Off, I said.’ I imagined him withdrawing his hands as if mistakenly touching a hot iron. Touching it again, withdrawing. Touching, withdrawing to the rhythm of my inner guitar strumming. Bukky: ‘Ok. All right. But remember were you not the one who warned me against old advisers, stale advices and all forms of loyalty to the past? Attachment to the past or to any tradition creates a lengthening indebtedness. And that can lead to a huge wastage of credit portfolios that can otherwise be securitised for new arrangements. Why do you think we are a respected family, a respectable brand? So darling, you don’t need to hold on to hard feelings please.’
In the anteroom, I at my impudent solo picnic was hitching towards its climax. I cooed to myself: If that Afro-Roman extremist, Tertullian, came to the window of heaven to rejoice in the sight of the damned, as he said he’d do, he would witness through the sunlight, my flaming soul and jolly good body festooned together by rays of sizzling pleasure while behind me in the palatial sitting room, Rome burned wider. Hmmmgh, I drew out my tongue further in relief, stretched it to wet the surrounding cliffs of my lips. Then all of a sudden, as a night guard sleeping with a noisy generator would wake up when the machine stopped its noise, something distinct happened. I realised the wrestling voices from the sitting room no longer sounded faint nor feeble, I realised the voices were no longer of scattered intensity but resolved and target-oriented as if an important resolution had sprung from the chaos. And this, this was leading them onward to the door: me.
‘We have to report him this morning before the media do the exposé and set off the tragedy at our expense. The impact would be less on us if we do so as soon as possible. But let us first pamper him before we question him, pamper him again and make him feel relaxed before the police and immigration barge in to sweep him away once and for all.’ I heard my brother asking militantly, ‘where is he?’
‘He must still be sleeping in his room I suppose.’ His wife answered.
‘Then someone has to bring him down.’ Hearing this, under the brilliance of the chandelier, I immediately folded in my splayed limbs and sprang up. Icy terror descended and thousands of emotions ran riot in me like the pitifully thin, flickering legs of an upturned bug.
‘Where is Madge?’ My brother cried out.
His wife: ‘No, no. I’ll go up and bring him down myself.’
‘Come on honey, I wouldn’t oblige you.’
‘Let me please.’
‘No point in stressing yourself going up. It is reasonable to let Madge do it. First, you are still in your night wear and it’s hardly covering up your prides. More importantly, you know Al must be having his head in the clouds courtesy of this new absurd media applause, sending an ordinary maid would ruffle and depride him well in advance. So let Madge bring him down please… Madge!… Madge!!’
Oh my darling! My beloved status, the source of my strength was who they were calling upon to bring me down. Again, his wife insisted on doing it but was overruled, insisted, overruled and their advancing footsteps were in my head sounding like a Peloponnesian. Oh my goodness!!! I skittered from seat to seat, ran panting from wall to wall until a growling lion from the table leg tripped me right onto the floor. It was like those media-induced police raids in the jungles of Calais when I was there, hoping against hope. You could always tell it was not routine but media-induced not only by its ferocity and the tearing of heads with truncheons but by the number of camera crews who had arrived earlier to thrill viewers back home and the photographers too gathering at specific positions, eager to take award-winning snapshots of the raid when it eventually began. During my final raid, I hid from tree to tree, climbed from branch to branch, was mugged by a nursing tree snake and her kids, I tripped, broke my ankle, continued fleeing France-ward on one leg and miraculously from nowhere my brother appeared, hoisted me on his board shoulder and whisked me to safety and comfort. ‘I started this way too with no one to rescue me, look where I am today at 40,’ he said when we arrived at his manor sprawl. Now he wanted to undo that daring rescue operation and personally hand me over to the enemy. ‘Madge! Madge!! Madge!!!’ I heard with increasing intensity. Her name from their lips hit me like a roaming artillery finally finding its target. I contemplated seizing the balustrade and hurling myself back to the attic so I can commit myself to being properly brought down and have a say. But of what use was a say now? And if I enact a non-violent defiance or a Martin Luther King civil disobedience by just coolly sitting there under the chandelier or laying here beside the growling lion, the uniformed men in boots and knife jackets like a crab’s carapace with their arms flowing out like pincers would arrive and force my arms behind me to take in the electric coldness of their handcuffs and its profound bite into my flesh even though I was now a Booker hopeful. No. No. No. I would not grant my brother and his wife their cherished dream. I will not allow my mugshots to be taken holding my book – my weapon of crime – at chest level. Like a nascent hydrogen molecule fresh from electrolysis, ‘Consummatum est,’ I said as I sprang up from the floor and seized my anti-war gear. As the couple were stepping out into the hallway, the kitchen at one end and the anteroom at the other, I heard Madge naively answering their call not grumpily, not inarticulately but loud and clear. Then, in the split of a microsecond, the door of the front entrance opened and forcefully banged shut, its ferocious draft adding to my forward thrust. But before that, before springing loose, outside, the alluring radiance of the morning sunshine was everywhere, and the house, the manor sprawl, heavy with the poetic and offbeat charm of a period set, lay brilliant under it. On opening, the front door admitted a triangle from that radiance, splashed it on the marble floor of the anteroom, and then slammed shut. The fountain came on, spraying its waters up in the shiny skies, and the foetus was finally out, solved.